Thursday, 3 September 2009

ducking and diving

Two Premiership teams have had run-ins with the football authorities this week. First in the dock was Arsenal and their young Croatian striker Eduardo. Last week, in a Champions League qualifying match against Celtic, Eduardo took a dive and won a penalty which he then converted. The goal all but secured the tie for Arsenal and the football world was almost united in condemnation for what was seen as blatant cheating. I was furious at the time while following the match on TV and, if my Twitter mates are anything to go byEduardo, many Arsenal fans were embarrassed by the incident. Diving has been the bane of football for some time and players have become more and more adept at what is often referred to as simulation. Though the referee thought Eduardo was brought down by the Celtic goalkeeper, EUFA charged the player with deceiving the referee and on the basis of video evidence he was found guilty this week and suspended for two matches.

Although many commentators are delighted that EUFA has decided to take a tougher stand against cheating there is an uneasiness in the game about the decision. Can the officials be sure that Eduardo deliberately dived to win a penalty unfairly? Will EUFA show some consistency and punish other players throughout the season, or have they made an example of a young player in the early stages of the competition?

I have a complaint about UEFA’s decision. Last season Manchester United played Arsenal in the semi-final of the Champions League. During the second tie with the match already secured Man Utd’s Darren Fletcher was deemed to have fouled an Arsenal player in the penalty box. A penalty was awarded and Fletcher was sent off. TV replays clearly showed the player had won the ball fairly and that a penalty should not have been given. Even though there was a clear case for rescinding the red card UEFA claimed they were powerless to overrule the referee's decision and could not take into account the video evidence.

So there we have it; UEFA using video evidence to retrospectively punish a player for cheating but refusing to use the same evidence to overturn an unjust decision which ruled a player out of one of the most important matches of his career. Why was video evidence allowed in one instance and not in the other? How are the interests of the game served by refusing to acknowledge when officials have made a mistake? UEFA needs to pursue a consistent line in its use of video technology, not just to punish cheating, but to overturn injustices.

The second case involves Chelsea who today were found guilty by FIFA, the world governing football body, of illegally inducing the young French player Kakuta to sign for the club in 2007. Kakuta had been playing for the French club Lens when Chelski came knocking at his door. Lens were furious at the poaching of a young talent they had nurtured for several years and took the case to FIFA whose Dispute Resolutions Panel has today delivered kakutaits judgement. As punishment Chelski have been banned from engaging in player transfers until 2011; they and the player have been fined E780,000 and ordered to pay compensation of E130,000 to Lens. There has been a growing unease within the game about the large wealthy clubs hoovering up all the young talent from around the world, at the expense of smaller clubs who have developed the players and this case seems to indicate FIFAs determination to stamp out illegal approaches. This case focuses on Chelski inducing a young player to break a contract.

This is not the first time Chelski have been accused of sharp practice over player transfers. In 2005 John Obi Mikel was sold to Man Utd by his then club Lyn Oslo but Chelsea intervened and encouraged the player to sign a contract with them. FIFA were called in to help resolve the dispute and rather than leave the matter in their hands an agreement was made whereby Chelsea paid Man Utd £12 million for the player and Lyn Oslo £4 million.

Now the issue in Chelski’s case is not a simple matter of a club trying to encourage a player to seek a transfer, which is known as ‘tapping up’ in the game. Such activity is banned although it is recognised that most clubs engage in the practice at one time or another. Chelski have been found guilty of encouraging a player to break his contract with a team in order to sign for them.

It is no surprise that both Chelski and Arsenal have indicated their intention to make the most vigorous appeals against the UEFA and FIFA’s rulings. However, the cases do highlight some serious issues that the game must address if it is not to be brought further into disrepute. It goes without saying that I take no pleasure in seeing two of Man Utd’s greatest rivals facing the wrath of the football authorities!

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